Focus On Film

A new visual landscape for Twilight

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1
Guillermo Navarro, ASC,(centre) and Director Bill Condon (right) on the set of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1

Guillermo Navarro, ASC, AMC knows about sequels and Oscars®. He shot the first two Hellboy movies, but more typically, he says, "I've been in the situation where I shot the first movie and then a sequel was done after. But this is the first time where I’m actually closing the saga."

Navarro also earned an Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 2007 on Pan’s Labyrinth. His wide-ranging work also includes such films as Stuart Little, The Long Kiss Goodnight, From Dusk Till Dawn and Desperado.

Navarro was director Bill Condon’s choice for lensing Summit Entertainment’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 and Part 2, the final two films in the hugely-popular Twilight series. "Being approached by Bill immediately drew my interest," Navarro says. "He’s a filmmaker I’ve always liked. It was a very, very strong collaboration, and I enjoyed every bit of it."

The two films were cross-boarded and filmed simultaneously at locations varying from Vancouver  to Louisiana to Brazil. "One week, we were shooting one movie, and within the same week, a piece of the other. It was very complicated."

Just as complex was the creation of the looks for Breaking Dawn. It was not simply a matter of watching the previous three films and attempting to recreate the work of the earlier cinematographers. "There is nothing which defined a single look for the three films," he says. "The first movie is entirely different from the second and the third. It’s a completely different aesthetic."

The concept of a movie being assigned “looks,” Navarro says, “is something I very much resent. That expression kind of implies responding to a scene and pulling out a gadget to see what existing recipe we should apply to the problem. If it's dark, light it one way, or a fight, light it another way. That's not at all how I work and come up with things."

Upon reading the script, he says, "It was clear that the story was sufficiently different from the previous movies, and that things were extended in a way that I could approach them from a different perspective. I felt that doing a strong change in the film language would help the story. And that's what we ended up doing."

Navarro explains that he and Condon created a "dramatic visual landscape" for the whole movie. "We created visual highs and lows, chose where those fit in, and then found a very good visual narrative for certain sequences that really benefited from it. I’m very happy with how it came out."

The films were shot on a challenging schedule. Navarro and Condon had to efficiently map out their various aesthetics before shooting began. "There was very limited time to execute and bear with all the difficulties and adversities of a movie like this," he says. "We looked at how we were going to tell the story, combining all of those elements."

Taking a fresh approach meant re-creating from scratch the parallel realities of the different characters’ worlds. "We did a lot of tests and work on how the look of those worlds was going to appear. We wanted to stay away from other things that worked for the other movies," such as Edward's (Robert Pattinson) heavy white make-up, a signature of his vampire look, in order to focus more on what was going on inside the characters.

 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1
(L-R) Guillermo Navarro, ASC, and Director Bill Condon on the set of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1.

"The movie is very centered in the main characters' emotions, and what's really going on with them," the cinematographer explains. "There are such profound changes with them in these films, so we made sure to allow room for exploration."

 

Most significantly are the changes Bella (Kristen Stewart) goes through: her transformation into life as a vampire, her wedding with Edward, and the birth of their child. "We took full advantage of the range of emotions she experiences during her transformation, putting as much dramatic weight as we could on the sequence," he says.

"For example, the wedding scene is very romantic and profound, after which things settle a bit. The camera is used subjectively; you really are there with them, enveloped in the passion."

Prior to the wedding, Bella fantasizes about a different sort of wedding - one in which the couple is seen atop a wedding cake, but the cake is actually made up of a pyramid of dead bodies. "It’s a very beautiful shot of them, as if they were the cake toppers with this huge collection of bloody corpses beneath them," Navarro describes. "We did a shot with Kristen and Robert on top of a little platform with all of these bloodied actors lying around, which you see as the camera starts revealing what’s there. So at the end, it really looks like a wedding cake, but it’s a nightmare wedding that she's experiencing. It’s a pretty impressive shot, and one with incredibly strong imagery."

Navarro recalls another shot filmed in Brazil when Bella first realizes she is pregnant with Edward's child. "It's probably one of the best shots in the movie, because she realizes not only that she is pregnant, but that she wants to keep the baby. We used a Steadicam to follow her, until she finds her reflection in a mirror, and locked in on that sentiment. It’s a shot that really takes you with her in her process. It's actually one of my favorite shots of the whole movie."

The most powerful sequence, according to Navarro, is the one that fans of the films and books have long been awaiting: the birth of Edward and Bella's baby. "The birth scene is extreme and strange," he says. "We pull the audience in so they really feel like part of the event."

Contrary to how the scene is graphically described in the book, Condon and Navarro chose to shoot the sequence strictly from Bella's perspective for the movie. "The camera was pretty much positioned from her point of view, with everybody interacting with the lens as the drama takes place. And then we just cut to her, taking everything in."

To make the scene more eerie, Navarro also lit it in an extreme manner. "Our lighting was similar to a set-up for a surgical procedure. I would go in and out, and then bounce from that out to what you could not see. There are things you don't see, but you imagine. It puts the viewer in a very strong, uncomfortable state of mind."

For less intense scenes, Navarro found himself working on the other end of the scale. "It's a very dialogue-heavy series. These films come from very strong and popular books. It's a difficult thing for a book to become a good movie. It has to go through a whole transformation of its own narrative and its own language."

 

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1
Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart star in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1 Photos by: Andrew Cooper © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC., All rights reserved.

To help keep the energy flowing in the film’s many dialogue scenes, Navarro made use of several of his favorite techniques. "I like to move the camera a lot, so I would use a Steadicam and occasionally go handheld. It's all part of how I exercise the film language, particularly in the dialogue scenes." His cameras of choice were a combination of Moviecams and ARRICAMS, using Optima zoom lenses and Zeiss Ultra Prime lenses.

 

Another favorite piece of gear was the 27-foot Scorpio Telescopic Camera Crane, which features a remote camera head. "It's very versatile because you can extend and retract, and boom up and down. We cooked a lot with that." Navarro also used a smaller 12-foot Puchi crane with a similarly-operated remote head. “It’s more of a human scale crane," he notes.

Navarro chose KODAK VISION3 500T Color Negative Film 5219 and VISION3 250D Color Negative Film 5207 to capture the emotions and action of both movies. "They’re terrific stocks - probably some of the best stocks ever made. They respond incredibly well. They really obey what you're doing and are very loyal to the choices and decisions you make."

The cinematographer put the 5219 through its paces during the filming of many nighttime scenes. "Nighttime scenes are very dangerous to address in terms of their scope," Navarro explains. "A lot of action happens in forests, and if you have to light a forest, that brings a huge level of specialty to it.”

Navarro had been experimenting with day-for-night cinematography, which he successfully applied to scenes in Breaking Dawn. “I do a combination of using tungsten film, which cools down the color by definition. And then I add neutral density filters to it to keep the level stop as if it was in real darkness."

To ensure consistency in the looks designed by the filmmakers during capture, Navarro essentially color timed every shot on set, accomplished by his son, Alvaro. "We color corrected on set with (Adobe Photoshop) Lightroom software, and then printed pictures, which got sent to EFILM for dailies. They used the photos as a reference in order to follow the lineup of the color timing that we did. Our dailies were spectacular because the colorist wasn't guessing or trying to interpret anything on his own. When I deal with darkness and extreme situations, I need to make sure the images stay as I intended. The only way I’ve found to do that is to spend some extra time, and do the color correction as we go."

The on-set color timing also equated to efficiencies for EFILM’s DI colorist Yvan Lucas. It also kept various visual effects teams on track. "Those shots are farmed out to effects houses around the world. They’re completely disconnected from the look of the movie. So all those things help to tie in and connect all the dots."

Injecting a breath of fresh air into the series could only be achieved with a strong team. "I knew that could only happen with the support of a creative entity," Navarro concludes. "In addition to Bill and me, we had very strong visual effects and production design support. I trusted them."